Saturday, 6 August 2016

Twelve Picture Books Every Kiwi Kid Should Know

10....ooops 11....scratch that....
TWELVE Picture Books Every Kiwi Kid Should Know

When I sat down to write this post of my favourite picture books, my goal was to limit my list to 10. But I just couldn't do it. So I settled on twelve because any more than that makes a very loooooong blogpost. But there are still many more I love dearly; maybe this blogpost will become part of a series! 

In no particular order......

The House That Jack Built by Gavin Bishop

Ok, so I said in no particular order but that doesn't apply to Gavin Bishop's The House That Jack Built. In my humble opinion, this book is hands down one of the smartest, most important New Zealand picture books ever written and should be in every classroom and family bookshelf in the country. The interplay of text and artwork is phenomenal and the message is so compelling. I have so much to say about this book but I made a promise to myself to keep the text in this post brief so I'm going to leave you with this; if you do not own a copy of this, walk, don't run to your nearest independent bookshop and buy one! 

Little Red Riding Hood, Not Quite by Yvonne Morrison and Donovan Bixley 

This book and its companion, The Three Bears Sort Of are absolutely hilarious! Both are great tools for classroom conversations around being discerning and questioning everything we read. You are guaranteed to know a student who is exactly like the child in the story. And Donovan Bixley's illustrations? Just Wow! 

Two Little Bugs by Mark and Rowan Sommerset

It was hard to choose one favourite from this awesome team as they are all so much fun. I settled on Two Little Bugs for its awesome message about optimism. We talk a lot in our classrooms about growth mindset and taking risks and this is a great book for starting that discussion. My class of Year 8s loves this book. Gorgeous die cut shapes too. 

Gladys Goes to War by Glyn Harper and Jenny Cooper

This non-fiction book is the incredible story of Aucklander, Gladys Coates an amazing woman who wouldn't take no for an answer. All children will love this story but girls particularly will be inspired by her refusal to bow to societal norms and her determination not to let expectations of girls dictate her choices in life. 

Changing Times- The Story of a New Zealand Town and its Newspaper by Bob Kerr

Wow! This is an incredibly ambitious picture book and I love it! The book chronicles changes in the way news is communicated in New Zealand but Changing Times is so much more than that. It tells the story of the McPherson family, who emigrate here from Scotland in 1840, and through incredible illustrations and cuttings from the newspapers of the day, it introduces New Zealand history from 1840 to the present day. The style is almost like a graphic novel and there is just so much to look at. This would be a great tool to use as a starter for personal inquiries into events that have shaped Aotearoa into the nation it is today or even for an exploration of technological advances.  I also love Bob Kerr's After the War which has been a favourite in my classes for many years.  

Dashing Dog by Margaret Mahy

How on earth does one choose just one title from the absolute Queen of picture books? What an impossible task. So I let my daughter do it! She is an enormous Mahy fan and some of her happiest memories are around this fantastic story. Dashing Dog is Mahy at her absolute best; full of fun and imagination. I love that Margaret Mahy never dumbed-down her language for young readers'; the wordplay in this story is just fantastic. I will never forget the proud looks on her grandparents' faces when our three-year-old daughter described a wrought iron fence as "curlicued!" Thanks, Margaret! 

Taming the Sun by Gavin Bishop 

I just love all of Gavin Bishop's Māori Myths and Legends. They are accessible and entertaining and the illustrations are stunning. I also love Counting the Stars and Riding the Waves. He has also ensured a balance of well-known myths with introducing some that are lesser known. These are well-thumbed in our classroom.  

Fuzzy Doodle by Melinda Szymanik and Donovan Bixley

I recently came across this amazing book and was absolutely thrilled; A Winter's Day in 1939 by Syzmanik is one of my favourite pieces of historical fiction and everything Donovan Bixley turns his hand to is gold. This is no different; I adore it and I strongly recommend many readings as you will see something new with each reading. It is surprisingly sophisticated with a powerful message about creativity. I can't read this book without humming Paul Kelly's "From Little Things Big Things Grow." This is a great starter for conversations around the power of yet! 

Haka by Patricia Grace and Andrew Burdan

Haka is a must-read for all New Zealand children, actually, scratch that. Haka is a must-read for all New Zealanders, regardless of their age! This picture book had my nine-year-old, rugby-mad son completely mesmerised and gave us all a new understanding and appreciation of the 'Ka Mate' haka. The illustrations are absolutely stunning, an artwork in their own right. Buy this book for your own collection. My prediction is that we'll all reach for it frequently. 

The Boring Book by Vasanti Unka

This book is so much fun! The production values are stunning with lots to explore. I am a terrible font-geek and so I loved Unka's use of typography to highlight various words. This is a fantastic book for a writing workshop on Vocabulary. Use it to start discussions around the careful consideration of word choice and I guarantee your Asttle writing Vocab grades will increase! The Boring Book is anything but boring! 

The Duck in the Gun by Jow Cowley and Robyn Belton

The Duck in the Gun is a true New Zealand classic. It was first published in 1969 and has a strong anti-war sentiment. Despite the powerful message, it is full of whimsy and hilarity and really captures the imaginations of children. I have used this as a starter in Philosophy for Children for a Circle of Inquiry about war. There are lots of ways to use this story in classrooms of all ages. So much fun! 

Old Huhu by Kyle Mewburn and Rachel Driscoll

This is a stunning book which deals with the loss of a loved one. It features absolutely stunning artwork from Rachel Driscoll and a touching message about grief and the acceptance of losing a loved one. This is a sad story with a very hope-filled ending. 

So that's twelve New Zealand picture books I absolutely adore. I could easily sit down right now and write another installment but I'll leave you to mull over this list. 

What are your favourite New Zealand picture books? Please share your recommendations in the comments! I'd love to hear your suggestions. 

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Growing Techno Kids- Selwyn House Takes a Risk.....

Yesterday I blogged about the way schools can share and collaborate to support one another. Today I'd like to share something we tried at Selwyn House.

I asked you to think about something your school is doing well; something other schools would enjoy hearing about. At Selwyn House, we are deeply committed to the growth of computer science and makered programmes. This is a legacy left by the incredible Jill Pears and her work is now being continued by Liz Fairhall, our awesome eLearning Director and my co-teacher.

As programmes like robotics and computational thinking become more and more widespread, we've had many schools contact us wanting to visit which is fantastic and we love visiting their schools in return. As interest levels have gotten higher and higher, our principal, Lyn Bird called us together to pose the question, "How might we share our Makered programmes to benefit other schools in Christchurch?"

We decided to gather together the awesome people who have inspired us and continue to support us on our Makered journey by holding a professional learning day for interested educators. This was a big undertaking- we'd be responsible for 7 hours of learning! How would we ensure the day was worthwhile? How would a school offering PD be perceived by others? Would it be seen as thinking we knew it all? After all, we don't by any means believe we have all the answers; we just really wanted to share what we've learned and showcase the people that have inspired us.

We were so thrilled when our our inspirations/speakers jumped on board. We eventually settled on a format which involved three keynotes spread throughout the day interspersed with four workshops; attendees selected two of these.

Our keynote speakers were:

Professor Tim Bell of University of Canterbury

Tim was really excited to be involved and started the day with an interactive keynote using resources from the incredible CS Unplugged which has had a great deal of influence over the way Computer Science is taught at our school.

Tim is deeply passionate about the teaching of computer science principles from a young age. He shared how the technology industry is thriving in post-quake Christchurch and talked about the opportunities programming skills give our learners to really follow their passions and make a difference in their world. He shared activities from CS Unplugged which is used worldwide and showed us how to use this resource to teach CS principles without even laying hands on a device.

The ever-inspiring Bridget McKendry

You may know her as @pixelbrid on Twitter. Bridget and Carl Pavletich are the founders of Fabriko and together they started the Christchurch Makercrate soon after the earthquakes, bringing making to the Christchurch community in a container! They also run the incredible Christchurch FabLab in Cathedral Junction.

Bridget epitomises a maker. She is deeply committed to creating a community of makers through open access to the necessary tools and ideas. Bridget's spirit of generosity and her "girl power" attitude has made her a real favourite of Selwyn House learners. She is adored and respected and is a fantastic mentor to our learners. We are so grateful to have Bridget's support.

Bridget talked about the role making has played in life and how important makered is for developing problem solving skills, perseverence, creativity and a sense of fun!

Michael Trengrove and Caitlin Duncan of Code Club Aotearoa

Man, what a team these guys make. Michael is such a genuinely nice guy whose heart's desire is to ensure that all New Zealand intermediate-aged kids have equity when it comes to learning coding. He has always whole heartedly supported Liz and I and the direction we wanted our Code Club to take. He didn't flinch when we insisted it was for girls' only and was fully on board when we insisted that our club be opened to all girls in the Christchurch community; not just those within our school. He has listened to our numerous irate rants about the lack of women being encouraged into Computer Science and has taken our thoughts on board. We feel very grateful to have his enthusiasm and support for what we do.

Caitlin is the cool computer chick our girls all want to be. She is passionate and inspiring and so, so knowledgeable about teaching coding in schools.

These two showed us exactly WHY it is so important that we teach our learners to code. Here's why....

There are over 600 thriving tech firms here in Christchurch and we're a small city of around 400,000 people! We can all imagine the opportunities that creates. Caitlin informed us that for each University of Canterbury Computer Science graduate there were TEN attractive jobs. Most UC comp sci students had good jobs by the end of their first year of their undergraduate degrees! It is our duty to ensure that our learners aren't excluded from these opportunities.

Michael and Bridget offered coding and 3d printing workshops while Liz Fairhall offered a robotics workshop and I offered a workshop on 5 Tools for Connecting Your Class (not exactly computer science but the theme for the day was Growing Techno Kids so it kind of worked!) I have never run any sort of teacher learning before so I was petrified. I needn't be- the attendees were so lovely and so appreciative. I loved meeting them and starting a conversation with them around connecting our classes.

Here's my google pres. As you can see, I packed far too much in for a 55 minute workshop but somehow it worked! I could have explored any ONE of these tools for the full 55 minutes but never mind.  That's the beauty of giving a link to a google pres.....participants can explore at their own pace in their own time. (Some of you may see tweets from your own classes! Thanks so much for connecting with us!)

We had more than 40 teachers join us for the day and the evaluations suggest it was a great success. There is so much passion around this topic and the teachers were fired up, ready to learn and share their experiences and this made for a really great atmosphere where we were all learning together alongside one another. Another thing that helped enormously was having our Y8 students on hand to support teachers in the workshops. Our students really are pretty phenomenal and this came up again and again in the evaluation sheets.

Creating Lego Balloon Car Racers in Liz's Robotics Workshop
Our primary goal for this day was to SHARE the Makered love. We had no desire to make any money from the day, hence the small fee of $60pp to cover the speakers' time/ donations to their causes and lunch/ morning tea. The rewards were definitely not financial but the benefits for us at Selwyn House were huge. It was so wonderful to meet so many passionate Christchurch educators. It was a great day to be part of.

Thanks to everyone who came with open-minds to learn with us. Keep in touch!

By the way, if you are interested in Makered, here's another opportunity in Christchurch. 
The Chched Maker Event- Register by Thursday 23 July- I hope to see to you there! 

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

How Might We share our schools' strengths so that others might benefit?

And by we, I mean the "royal we"; I'm talking about your school, my school and schools throughout our community? How might we harness each school's strengths, their point of difference if you like, and share their collective expertise so that rather than competing against each other, we are all benefitting for the greater good, ensuring quality learning for our children?

Think about it; what makes you proud to work at your current school? What things is your school doing really well? Every school has its unique culture, the things that are really important to them, the things that give a school its special flavour. Is it a wonderful kapa haka programme, exceptional pastoral care, a Dance Academy or a highly innovative mathematics programme? What is it that makes you proud of your school? Maybe there is one area where your place is a shining light for other schools; perhaps there are a number of areas your school is focusing on? What do others in the wider community perceive to be your school's strengths? What are you known for?

 Schools are by definition places where we grow talents. Our purpose is to help our learners thrive and we work hard to help every learner on our roll be the best version of themselves. But what about our duty to other schools in our communities? Do schools have a moral obligation to support each other, sharing strengths and encouraging growth? I'm not sure of the answer to this; after all ensuring our own schools are thriving is a big ask, let alone supporting others. Having said that, I have seen many times in recent years the power sharing between schools can have.

Social Media has enabled us to share and collaborate in ways we could not have imagined 10 or 15 years ago. But what about face to face? Is a reliance on social media, subconsciously excluding members of our school communities? How can we reach these people? Is there still room for doing things "old school" and sharing face to face?

I am fortunate to be one of the Te Kahui Cluster Digital Leaders here in Christchurch, lead by the incredible Cheryl Doig and Donna Frame. This experience has been inspiring and has convinced me of the incredible power collaborating in a cluster can have. I am surprised to learn that clusters are not prevalent throughout New Zealand.

I am unsure of the "history" of clusters here in Christchurch and a google search is not shining any light on this. I suspect they were a structure put in place to provide support to schools when they were suffering post-earthquakes. Belonging to your designated cluster is optional and each cluster has its own unique make-up depending on the types of school in the area. The direction the cluster takes is determined by the members of the group depending on the needs of the schools in the area. Our Digital Leaders group is currently organising a Digital Citizenship Evening for parents in our area while another Christchurch cluster recently held an unconference which was highly successful judging by the twitter feed!

I'd love to see more visits to each others' schools. School visits are so powerful and benefit both the visitors and the hosts as we see our school through fresh eyes. Taking a whole staff to a neighbouring school during a school day is obviously a logistical nightmare but why not an after school shared afternoon tea complete with a smackdown or perhaps some eduignite talks from volunteers from both schools? After all, its highly likely that both schools are facing similar challenges.

I'm not a school leader so perhaps this entire blogpost shows my naivety around issues of schools collaborating rather than competing but it seems to me the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.  

So how does your school collaborate and share its strengths with other schools in your area?  

Lost my blogging mojo.....

I am so convinced of blogging's power to make me a better educator. Blogging is the most powerful tool for reflection. When I craft a post for my professional blog, there are enormous benefits for me and in turn, my learners.

  •  Blogging makes my thoughts and beliefs about teaching and learning clearer and helps me see what I need to do to improve my practice. 
  • Feedback from others is enormously beneficial and the quality of the conversation has real impact on what happens in our classroom.
  • Blogging makes me a better writer and writing teacher. Sharing my personal blogging experiences with my students has had real impact on their view of blogging as a useful learning tool. 
And there's always the possibility that what I share on my blog might benefit someone else. I really do believe in sharing and collaborating but I often have that nagging thought, "Who would want to read this when the interwebs are full of the blogs of truly phenomenal teachers, contemplating deep philosophical ideas about learning and doing incredible things in their learning spaces?" 

But then my growth mindset voice kicks in...... my posts are not of the quality of those rockstar teachers YET! 

And so I persevere, not because I'll ever be a rockstar teacher but because I blog for me; I blog because of the benefits I get from sharing and being part of a PLN. I blog because I encourage my students to create content to give back to our online community, not just take.  

But recently, I lost my blogging mojo. I hugely missed the benefits of blogging but couldn't bring myself to blog about anything.

I had lots of questions about the purpose of my blog but the biggest was this........... 

What is the role of my school in my blog? Where does my school end and Bridget start? Are we too heavily entwined meaning my blog has simply become a collection of recounts of things that happen at my school?

Over the weekend, I read two posts from two of my favourite bloggers; posts that cemented my ideas about MY purpose for blogging. 

The first was from Stephanie Thompson. Stephanie is the most incredible teacher and when my class first started blogging in 2013 (yes we were fairly late to the party!) I was teamed in an amazing quad which included Stephanie and her class for Aotearoa Quadblogging. 

It reminded me that blogging is about sharing the ups and downs of life in our classrooms. It is not about having all the answers and its value is in the conversation it inspires. Yes, I've experimented with writing posts that sound like I think I have all the answers but I can assure you I don't! 

Another post that reminded me of the value of sharing was this one from the amazing Silvia Tolisano of Langwitches. 

What struck me most was the idea that even the most mundane things should be documented. I can do that! 

And then she shared the link to this oldie but goodie.......

So thanks to these two amazing bloggers, I'm going to get back on that blogging we go......

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Year 8's Top Ten Reads of Term 1, 2015

Our Year 8s are prolific readers thanks to Donalyn Miller's 40 Book Challenge.

Term 1 of 2015 has seen this particular group of students really flourishing in their reading and I'm sure its because they have really embraced the concept of building a reading community across the Year 8 team. It is exciting to hear girls chatting excitedly before school about the book they finished the night before. It is exciting to see them bringing in piles of their own books to share with their friends. It is exciting to see them rushing to sign up for our daily Booksell roster. It is exciting to be part of the #kidsbookchat they lead fortnightly for readers around New Zealand. The reading community they have formed is undoubtedly contributing enormously to their individual growth as readers.

Last week, I surveyed them about their Term 1 favourites. Here are the results.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

A Beautiful Mash-Up

On Friday, 250 Year 5-8 students, their teachers and more than 20 mentors from the technology industry experienced the magic than can happen when education and industry work together.

The first ever Christchurch Mash Up for primary schools was initiated by Michael, Tim and Bryn from Code Club Aotearoa and many other parties with an interest in getting young people into technology and design thinking. These included Bridget and Carl from the FabLab, Caitlin Duncan from UC and a huge number of a volunteers from technology firms around Christchurch. The format was based on the highly successful High School Mash up held last year at the EPIC Hub.

250 students filled the Selwyn House Atrium

What is a Mash Up you might well be wondering?

Well, I'm still not entirely sure of the strict definition myself(which is probably slightly alarming given that I played a small role in helping to organise the event!) but one thing I know for sure is that this Mash Up event provided rich, authentic, highly engaging, real world learning experiences for the 250 students lucky enough to be there.

The challenge was to work in teams of 5-8 students to identify real world problems, gradually whittling down their list to one problem that really bugged them. They had to work to find solutions eventually planning and designing their best idea. There were mentors for each team who were industry professionals and there were pods of "pros" such as Bridget and Carl with their 3d printers for prototyping, Bryn with his incredible array of sensors and Esther with her marketing skills so teams could get feedback on their logos, company names and guidance with their pitching.
Bridget McKendry from The Fablab prototyping with teams

There were many steps to the process and the students were learning all sorts of new terms including-

  • Ideation
  • Market Validation
  • Solutioneering
  • Curation
  • Pitching

This was a very intense and exhilarating three hours and the learners were so engaged from the get-go; the atmosphere was electric! 

One of the many highlights of this event was the arrival of Claudia Batten, kiwi entrepreneur. She had a very powerful message for us all.

"You only fail if you give up. Keep trying." 

What a great message; have a growth mindset. Her message was empowering and inspiring for the young Christchurch learners. 

A highlight for the teachers was being able to leave the students with the mentors to attend a workshop led by Caitlin Duncan from University of Canterbury. Caitlin shared her research findings around primary school children learning to code and Initial Learning Environments such as CodeAcademy and CodeAvengers. It was a great chance for teachers to chat about the computer science in our schools and what our next steps are. 

The afternoon drew to a close with selected teams sharing their pitches with the three judges, followed by a question session a la Dragon's Den. 

Finally, a prize giving. Prizes were then awarded for a range of things including Best Pitch, Best Solution and Best Teamwork with prize money from the Christchurch City Council. 

Cobham Intermediate pitches their virtual pet with emotion sensors

It was an amazing afternoon and I feel grateful to have had a small role working with the industry professionals to bring Code Club Aotearoa's dream to fruition.  I learned lots from working with this amazingly dedicated group of people who want to see young people have the opportunity to join the thriving technology industry. Their belief in the ability of the children of Christchurch to achieve amazing things in such a short period of time was a reminder to me that we should never underestimate young learners. Huge thanks to Michael Trengrove and Tim Hatherley-Greene and also to Bridget McKendry for your unfailing belief in and dedication to New Zealand's young people.  

Amazing things can be achieved when schools work with professionals to solve wicked problems. How can our schools benefit from this model? How can we create more opportunities for education and industry to create magic together? 

Caitlin Duncan talks with teachers about teaching coding at primary school

Here's an article about the event from Stuff.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

What Jessie J has taught me about growth mindset!

Last night I was reflecting on my 28 days of writing efforts and feeling pretty embarrassed about my dismal attempt. This is the last day of 28 and I've managed to publish just 18 posts including this one.... a.bys.mal.

As I was sitting staring at my laptop in front of the tv waiting for inspiration to strike for another post, I was beating myself up about my very disappointing efforts. 17 posts in 28 days? How come so many other educators managed to write 28 posts...and not just good posts.....phenomenal, inspiring posts, all 28 of them with new insights and challenges and beautifully crafted. I was deeply engaged in my own negative self-talk; "I'm not good enough" I told myself as that great philosopher of the modern era, Jessie J came on to perform on the Graham Norton show.

Apparently this image has a "Creative Commons" licence.

Next thing she was singing these words.....

Wow! Just what I needed to hear.......the great Jessie J was singing right to me! ;) As an aside, this is a great song for teaching growth mindset or would be if I could work out how to beep out the nawty words! 

What a great lesson in growth mindset "28 days of writing" has been. Our Year 7/8 team is currently fully immersed in a Unit of Inquiry on mindset for learning. We've been really exploring our own self-talk and I've come to the realisation that I can be incredibly hard on myself. The girls in 8CF inform me that the biggest challenge for many of them is going to be changing their self-talk when faced with the success of their peers and I know they are onto something. At times during the month, the incredible quality of others' posts took my breath away. Rather than being inspired though, I let it totally get the better of me, becoming quite intimidated and giving up. But I need to take a leaf out of Jessie's book and hum this tune....... 

"I wanna hang with the greatest, gotta way to go but it's worth the wait......." 

She's right you know, old Jessie J. Sure, I have only managed 18 posts in February but that's 17 more than January! And yes some of them were pretty light and fluffy about extremely important subjects like whether schools should send out class lists at the end of the year or allocate desks in class! But in others I really put myself out there which is quite an achievement for someone who is scared of conflict! That's growth, right there. 

Yesterday, I read my girls this beautiful book from the ever- amazing Mark and Rowan Sommerset. 

Just like Jessie J, these little bugs have lots to teach us about the power of optimism and having a growth mindset. I could choose to be like the blue bug, blown away and allowing myself to feel intimidated by the many talented writers in my PLN, eventually giving up. Then again, I could choose to be like the red bug, proud of what I've achieved and facing towards the sun! I could read the posts of others and be inspired by them, asking myself, "How does she do it? What can I learn from her?" Being the blue bug can sometimes be the easier option; it needs less courage and effort and its risk of failing. But boy, what a miserable way to live.........

For the month of March, I choose to be the red bug.

Thank you so much to Tom Barrett for starting the 28 Days of Writing adventure! I'm so glad I joined in.